Papers of John Adams, volume 16

Descriptive List of Illustrations
Descriptive List of Illustrations
John Adams, after much maneuvering to secure Dutch recognition of the United States, was received as American minister to the Netherlands on 19 April 1782 and found his Prussian counterpart, Friedrich Wilhelm, Baron von Thulemeier (1734–1811), the Prussian envoy at The Hague from 1763 to 1788, to be “very civil.” According to Adams, Thulemeier “attacks me (as he expresses it) in English, and wishes to meet me on Horseback, being both great Riders—will converse freely with me upon Astronomy or Natural History or any more common affairs—will talk of News, Battles, Seiges, &ca.” Adams acknowledged, however, that Thulemeier and the other foreign representatives at The Hague “are very reserved in Politics and Negotiations. They must wait for Instructions.”
In early 1784 Thulemeier received instructions from Frederick II directing him to call on Adams and propose negotiations for a treaty of commerce between Prussia and the United States. Lacking authority to conclude a treaty, Adams urged Congress in a 7 June letter to frame its commission to allow talks to proceed at The Hague. Adams noted that Frederick had favored Thulemeier with the task and that Thulemeier wished to complete it. “It is not every Ambassador, however high his Rank or numerous his Titles, or magnificent his Appointments, who arrives at the Honour of concluding any Treaty. It is a Distinction, which is made an Object of Ambition and is much desired So that the Barons inclination I Suppose will not be thought inexcuseable” (below). Thulemeier ultimately signed a treaty with Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson in the summer of 1785 (vol. 11:xi–xiii, 182–183, 184–185, 272–284; vol. 12:427; vol. 13:421–422, 424; Robert von Blumenthal, “Das Geschlecht Thulemeier aus Horn in Lippe,” Genealogie, 36:741–42 [Nov. 1987]; Repertorium , 3:333; to Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, 20 Feb. 1784, below; Miller, Treaties , 2:162–184).
The origins of the portrait that appears here are unknown. A photograph of the original painting was published as the frontispiece to Wanda von Puttkamer’s “Friedrich Wilhelm von Thulemeyer, Gezant van Frederik den Grooten in den Haag (1763–1781),” Haagsch Maandblad 23:429–438 (April 1935).
Courtesy of Widener Library, Harvard College Library.
This print, drawn and engraved by German illustrator Daniel Chodowiecki (1726–1801), purports to show Congress at the time of the Declaration of Independence, though it misdates the event 14 July 1776. The print depicts fifteen men seated in an assembly hall with an allegorical figure floating above them. The print misrepresents both the number of delegates and their character, suggesting that each state had only a single representative and that the delegates were of noble rank. It errs in its depiction of the layout of the hall as well. The allegory celebrates America, holding dominion and anticipating victory, as a new era begins. Chodowiecki’s print appears in Matthias Christian Sprengel’s Allgemeines Historisches Taschenbuch, oder Abriss der merkwürdigsten neuen Welt-Begebenheiten: enthaltend für 1784 die Geschichte der Revolution von Nord-America, Berlin, [1783], plate 5. There it is the fifth of twelve illustrations depicting signal events of the American Revolution. All are drawn from the artist’s imagination and reflect both European sensibilities and an ignorance of American circumstances (Wilhelm Engelmann, Daniel Chodowiecki’s Sämmtliche Kupferstiche, Leipzig, 1857, p. 256–257; Grove Art Online,; Justin Winsor, ed., Narrative and Critical History of America, 8 vols., Boston, 1884–1889, 8:499).
On 28 February 1784 Charles Spener, of the Berlin firm of Haude and Spener, which published Sprengel’s almanac, wrote to John Adams (below). Enclosing a copy of the almanac (not found), Spener asked for Adams’ help in correcting errors in the prints and requested that he suggest subjects for illustrations in a planned 1785 edition. Adams replied on 24 March 1784 and advised Spener to use representations of liberty—civil and political, commercial, and religious—to illustrate American affairs in his next almanac. These, according to Adams, were the “three grand Objects in View, in all our political Transactions. … These are our real Glory.” Adams conceded, however, that “perhaps it might contribute more to the Sale of your Almanack to insert Some Things which arise more from our Vanity and Folly” (below).
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
On 9 March 1784 John Adams went before Lambert Sythoff, a notary public at The Hague. He was there to agree formally, on behalf of the United States, to a contract for a 2-million-florin loan underwritten by the Amsterdam banking firms of Wilhem & Jan Willink, Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, and De la Lande & Fynje (below). It was the second loan that Adams had negotiated with the consortium. In 1782 he had borrowed 5 million florins, but by 1784 circumstances required a new loan of less money at a higher cost.
The second Dutch loan was a desperate undertaking intended to prevent the collapse of American credit in Europe. Events in America had sapped Dutch investors’ confidence in the ability of the United States to pay its debts. This led to the 1782 loan remaining unfilled at the very time that Robert Morris, the superintendant of finance, issued bills of exchange far in excess of the funds available to pay them. Fortunately the new loan, contrary to Adams’ initial expectations, proved successful; Morris’ bills were paid and even the earlier loan soon filled. In early April 1784 he observed that “it was a long time, before I could see the least hopes, but at last I succeeded and have obtained the Money to save our Credit once more” ( AFC , 5:315–316).
The first and last pages of the contract that appear here are from the second of three copies that the consortium sent to Congress for ratification. It was returned to John Adams, with Congress’ 1 February 1785 instrument of ratification attached, as an enclosure in John Jay’s letter of 11 February 1785, which Adams received on 23 April. For the circumstances that made the new loan necessary, see John Adams’ 1 February 1784 letter to the consortium; for the evolution of the loan’s terms, see the consortium’s letter of 4 February 1784 and those from Wilhem & Jan Willink of 4 and 16 February 1784, all below.
From the original in the Adams Family Papers. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
4. MASON LOCKE WEEMS, BY ALBERT ROSENTHAL, 1911 169[unavailable]
Mason Locke Weems (1759–1825) of Maryland, who had a long career as a traveling book agent and writer of almanacs, moral tracts, and biographies, is best known for his life of George Washington, which celebrated Washington’s real and imagined virtues and went through over two dozen editions under various titles between 1800 and Weems’ death. In 1784, however, he was a young seminarian seeking ordination as a priest in the Anglican church.
Weems faced a problem. To take orders in the Church of England required him to swear allegiance to George III, which he as an American refused to do. Seeking a solution to his problem he turned to John Adams, and in a letter of ca. 27 February, Weems asked for advice, inquiring in particular whether he could be ordained elsewhere in Europe (below). Adams replied on 3 March, explaining that he considered it “dangerous” for an American diplomat “to intermeddle, in a matter of Religion especially without Orders from his Superiors” but agreeing to help as much as he could as a private citizen. Adams rejected the Netherlands as an alternative and proposed Sweden and Denmark as possibilities. He also suggested that Weems consult the Swedish minister at London as well as the bishop of St. Asaph, a longtime friend of the American cause, and even thought it conceivable that “Parliament may Authorize, some Bishop in England to ordain American Candidates without administering the oaths” (below). Adams also raised the matter with the Danish minister at The Hague, who conveyed the xii inquiry to his government, which determined that Americans could be ordained in Denmark without taking an oath of allegiance. But the alternatives proved unnecessary, for in August Parliament passed an act allowing Americans to be ordained in England without their having to swear allegiance to the king. Weems was ordained as a deacon by the bishop of Chester on 5 September and as a priest by the archbishop of Canterbury on the 12th.
This engraving by Albert Rosenthal (1863–1939), taken from a print owned by collector of colonial and revolutionary autographs and illustrations David McNeely Stauffer, appears as the frontispiece to Lawrence C. Wroth’s Parson Weems: A Biographical and Critical Study, Baltimore, 1911 ( DAB ; Wroth, Parson Weems, p. 22, 52–55, 59–62, 64–72; Mason Locke Weems: His Works and Ways, ed. Paul Leicester Ford and Emily Ellsworth Ford Skeel, 3 vols., N.Y., 1929, 1:2–245; New York Times, 21 Dec. 1939).
Courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.
In late 1783, when John and John Quincy Adams visited London, the elder Adams amused himself “by running into Booksellers Shops, and purchasing now and then a Book, which I had occasion for” (to Hendrik Fagel, 1 July 1784, below). When the Adamses hurriedly departed London for the Netherlands in early January 1784, the books were left behind with John Stockdale, from whom they had rented rooms during their stay. In June, with John Quincy Adams in London awaiting the arrival of his mother and sister, the opportunity to retrieve the books presented itself. John Adams wrote to his son that “you Say nothing of our Books at Stockdales; have you shipped them? And by whom? If not do this Business as soon as possible. I am impatient to collect together here, all the little Things which belong to me, that I too may be in a Condition to return home, upon Occasion” ( AFC , 5:338).
John Quincy Adams sent the books, but at Rotterdam customs officials prohibited their entry. John Adams wrote to Hendrik Fagel, secretary to the States General, who informed him that a passport was needed and to obtain one Adams should apply to the States General. Adams did so, and the passport shown here was the result (from Hendrik Fagel, 1 July; first memorial to the States General, 2 July, both below). As translated its pertinent section reads, “that we at the request of Mr. Adams, minister plenipotentiary of the United States of America, have consented and agreed, as we consent and agree in this passport, that two trunks and a chest marked I: A:, containing books belonging to the said Mr. Adams and coming from London to Rotterdam aboard the ship Prince William Henry, Capt. Woodward, shall be allowed entry, free and without payment of duties, according to the laws of the country.”
From the original in the Adams Family Papers. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
John Adams was proud of the Abbé de Mably’s Observations. This was because Mably’s work took the form of four letters addressed to Adams, but also because its 1784 publication at Amsterdam, in French and English editions, was due largely to his own efforts. Since October 1783, using Antoine Marie Cerisier as his agent, Adams had sought the publication of Observations in the Netherlands after permission to publish it in France had been denied. His efforts were crowned with success when on 21 March 1784 the publisher J. F. Rosart & Co. sent Adams the first copy of the French edition. The title page printed here is from one of two 1784 printings of Mably’s work in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The second copy may be the pirated version of Observations that Rosart & Co. feared was in the offing, for on its title page the publisher’s name is misspelled “Rosard” (vol. 15:312–314; from Antoine Marie Cerisier, 21 Feb., and note 1, and 3 March; from J. F. Rosart & Co., 21 March, all below).
The English edition of Mably’s work, Observations on the Government and Laws of the United States of America, did not appear until late July, when Adams sent Benjamin Franklin a copy. On the title page of that copy, now at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, Adams wrote the name of the translator: “Mr Sowden.” He indicated in his accompanying letter that Sowden was “an English Episcopal Clergymen, at Amsterdam” (27 July, below). On 6 August Franklin replied that he had corresponded with a man of the same name in the Netherlands and assumed the translator was his son (below). “Mr Sowden” was likely the Reverend Benjamin Choyce Sowden, minister of Amsterdam’s English Episcopal Church since 1782. Fluent in a number of languages, Sowden published tracts on diverse subjects and contributed to the Monthly Review in London. Franklin had corresponded with his father, Benjamin Sowden, regarding the American Revolution (vol. 15:312–314; J. van den Berg and G. F. Nuttall, Philip Doddridge (1702–1751) and the Netherlands, Leiden, 1987, p. 75, 82, 87–88; Aubrey Hawkins, “Some Writers on The Monthly Review,” The Review of English Studies, 7:172 [April 1931]; The Gentleman’s Magazine, 66:356, 385 [April, May 1796]; Franklin, Papers , 26:568).
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
7. “VUE DE PARIS,” BY JOHN TRUMBULL, CA. 1786 305[unavailable]
John Trumbull’s view of Paris is taken from the vantage point of the Hôtel de Valentinois, Benjamin Franklin’s residence at Passy, which Trumbull visited in 1786 after Franklin’s departure. His sketch captures the landmarks of the city with the Dôme des Invalides and École Militaire in the foreground. Nearer the horizon from left to right are Nôtre Dame, St. Sulpice with its second mismatched tower under construction, and the church of Ste. Geneviève (now the Panthéon) surrounded by scaffolding. It is a scene xiv with which John Adams was very familiar, for he and John Quincy Adams had resided with Franklin in 1778 and 1779. And in 1784, following his move to the Hôtel de Rouault in Auteuil, John Adams often walked the mile to the Hôtel de Valentinois, where he and his colleagues, Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, conducted the business of the joint commission to negotiate commercial treaties with the nations of Europe and North Africa. Adams found the commission’s work satisfying, his colleagues congenial, and his residence in the Paris suburbs “excellent.” He was “far enough from the Mass of Putrifaction in Paris, and high enough above the Fogs of the Seine” so that upon his departure from Auteuil for London in May 1785 he could write that “I call all the Environs of Auteuil mine and with good Reason, for I will lay a Wager, they have given me more Pleasure, in a few Months than they ever afforded their legal Proprietors for a Century” (Trumbull, Autobiography , p. 104, 106–107, 109–110; Karl Baedeker, Paris and its Environs, with Routes from London to Paris: Handbook for Travellers, 19th rev. edn., N.Y., 1924, p. 293–294; JA, D&A , 2:297; 4:viii, 262, 264–265; AFC , 6:x; to C. W. F. Dumas, 25 Aug. 1784, below; and 18 May 1785, PHi:Gratz Coll.).
Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery. Bequest of Susan Silliman Pearson.
This commission was one of twenty issued by Congress on 12 May 1784 empowering John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to negotiate treaties of amity and commerce with the nations of Europe and North Africa (MHi:Coolidge Coll.). It is unique because it is the only one of those commissions that actually resulted in a treaty. The commissioners notified Friedrich Wilhelm, Baron von Thulemeier, the Prussian minister to the Netherlands, of their new commission in a letter of 9 September, and Thulemeier sent the Americans a copy of his own commission to negotiate on 8 October, both below.
The negotiations resulting from this exchange, although successful, were not the first between the United States and Prussia. On 9 April Thulemeier had submitted a draft Prussian-American treaty to Adams, but Adams and his colleagues, Franklin and John Jay, lacked plenipotentiary powers. They could only submit the draft to Congress for its consideration, and when Congress failed to act, this initial effort came to nothing (Proposed Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, [9 April – post 5 May], below). New negotiations began on 11 November, when the commissioners submitted a draft treaty to Thulemeier based not on the Prussian’s earlier proposal but rather on a model treaty drafted by Jefferson. The negotiations were conducted by correspondence between Paris and The Hague and by March 1785 were virtually complete. The treaty was signed in the summer of 1785 (Negotiation of the 10 xv September 1785 Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, 10 Nov. 1784 – 14 March 1785, below).
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
The Duke of Dorset (1745–1799) was named British ambassador to France in December 1783 and served until mid-1789. John Adams thought him “a plain, open honest Man—without a Spice of Reserve or ill Will.— And he Seems to have Sense enough” (to Cotton Tufts, 15 Dec. 1784, below). Whatever Adams may have thought of the duke, the commissioners’ exchanges with him were unproductive, for Britain refused to negotiate with the United States. Thus the commissioners’ correspondence with Dorset, wherein they offered to go to England for negotiations, resulted only in an assurance that an American minister would be received in London and an expression of doubt that Congress had the power to negotiate a treaty binding on the individual sovereign states (the commissioners to the Duke of Dorset, 28 Oct. [2] and 9 Dec. 1784; from the Duke of Dorset to the commissioners, 24 Nov. 1784 and 26 March 1785, all below).
On 15 December 1784 Adams wrote to Cotton Tufts that some characterized Dorset’s life as “free” (below). The duke’s affairs with women, married and unmarried, were widely known. Most notable was that with an Italian dancer, Giovanna Baccelli, whom Dorset had painted by both Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. It is perhaps then no surprise that this portrait of the duke was pulled from a 1782 London exhibition that included Gainsborough’s works, probably because the duke did not want his portrait to appear with Baccelli’s, which was also to be displayed ( DNB ; Amanda Foreman, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, N.Y., 1999, p. 46; Gill Perry, “The Spectacle of the Muse: Exhibiting the Actress at the Royal Academy” in David H. Solkin, ed., Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House, 1780–1836, New Haven, 2001, p. 113–114; Victoria Sackville-West, Knole and the Sackvilles, N.Y., [1923?], p. 188).
Courtesy of the Knole Estate, the National Trust, United Kingdom.
Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah, Sultan of Morocco, assumed his throne in 1757 and ruled until his death in 1790. In 1777 the sultan opened his ports to ships flying the American flag—at least a de facto recognition of the United States—and since 1778 had sought to initiate negotiations for a Moroccan-American treaty (vol. 6:32–33; vol. 14:501–502). By October 1784, having received no positive response from either Congress or its diplomats in Europe, the sultan’s patience was at an end, so he decided to bring the matter to a head by seizing an American ship, the Betsy (from James Erwin, 17 xvi Jan. 1785, below). His ploy was successful. On 11 March 1785 Congress issued a joint commission to conclude a Moroccan treaty, permitting its commissioners to appoint an agent to conduct the negotiations in Morocco and to pay whatever inducements were needed. Thomas Barclay was appointed to conduct the negotiations and reached Morocco on 19 June 1786. Within a week he had two audiences with the sultan, whom he later noted had “possessed in his early years all the fierceness of his ancestors” but thereafter took “the utmost pains to conquer those habits and prejudices in which he was educated.” The negotiations proved successful, and on 23 June the sultan sealed an agreement that was delivered to Barclay on the 28th (Roberts and Roberts, Thomas Barclay , p. 193; Jefferson, Papers , 8:611–612; 10:71, 359–361; PCC, No. 91, II, f. 410; Miller, Treaties , 2:185).
Two years before Barclay’s undertaking, Col. Maurice Keatinge (d. 1835) traveled to Morocco on a British diplomatic mission. In 1816 Keatinge published an account of his experiences, entitled Travels in Europe and Africa, which was reprinted in 1817 as Travels through France and Spain to Morocco. Among the illustrations drawn by the author is the image shown here. In his narrative and accompanying engraving, Keatinge captured the “novel, grand, and impressive” public ceremony of the sultan mounted on “a bright bay horse, with furniture of crimson velvet loaded with gold and jewels” and a twirling red umbrella above his head as a symbol of royal standing. Dressed in white robes and turban, the sultan progressed through the palace square in the noonday sun as onlookers prostrated themselves before him ( DNB ; Maurice Keatinge, Travels through France and Spain to Morocco, repr. edn., London, 1817, p. 235–237).
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
On 24 February 1785 Congress appointed John Adams the first American minister to the Court of St. James and issued him a commission as such (below). It was not a unanimous decision. Opponents cited Adams’ “Peace Journal” and his 5 February 1783 letter to the president of Congress describing the ideal minister to Great Britain, unmistakably Adams, as evidence of “Traits of a weak passion, to which a Minister ought never to be subject, & as an Evidence that an artful Negotiator may flatter You out of important objects” (from Elbridge Gerry, 24 Feb. 1785, below). Adams refuted such charges in a letter to Elbridge Gerry of 2 May 1785 that may not have been sent (Adams Papers). If the letter was not sent it was probably owing to Adams’ desire to let sleeping dogs lie since he had received the appointment to which he had long thought himself entitled.
By 1785 Adams was less strident on the subject than previously, but he must have seen his appointment as rectifying a gross injustice. In 1779 he had been named the minister plenipotentiary to xvii negotiate Anglo-American treaties of peace and commerce. In 1781 Congress created a joint commission to negotiate the peace, but it also revoked his commission to conclude a commercial treaty. Adams accepted the creation of the joint peace commission, but in a 5 February 1783 letter to the president of Congress he stated very starkly his view of the second commission. His appointment as minister to negotiate an Anglo-American commercial treaty had made him the de facto, if not the de jure, minister to Great Britain. The issue was not whether Congress should choose Adams from among other candidates to be minister to Great Britain, but rather that Congress could choose no one else unless it was willing to condemn his faithful efforts on behalf of the United States and debar him from future service to the nation (vol. 11:371–374, 434–435; vol. 12:2–3; vol. 14:238–245).
From the original in the Adams Family Papers. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.